HERE'S A JOB that takes a special someone, especially in weeks like this, when the Harrisburg gamesmanship is particularly ungainly. Steve Miskin is the longtime spokesman for the state House Republican leadership, charged with explaining/defending GOP policy to people outside the bubble.
Chances are you've heard him on KYW.
Miskin is one of those rare government press secretaries who represents partisan positions in a calm, even-handed manner, no matter the heat or urgency of the topic.
He's also a frequent, if biased, user of social media and is not above trying to curry favor with the media by occasionally trolling the Capitol newsroom with a basket of chocolate mini-bars.
Importantly, almost unbelievably, he's proved facile enough to work for very different and, in some cases, very difficult GOP bosses while remaining respected - and employed.
Miskin, 52, is from Great Neck, N.Y., and a Temple grad. He lives outside Harrisburg with his wife and three adopted young children: two boys from Russia and a girl from China.
He recently sat down with columnist John Baer.
Q How long and for whom have you been the voice of Pennsylvania Republicans?
Well, I worked for Sens. John Heinz and Arlen Specter but started as an official spokesman in 1993 at GOP state committee, then run by Anne Anstine. Then for Gov. Ridge, Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker, House Speakers Matt Ryan and John Perzel, current Speaker Mike Turzai, and now House Majority Leader Dave Reed.
Q What's the best thing, if there is anything, about your job?
While many of the issues over the last 10, 15 years are mostly identical, like property taxes and liquor privatization, they're also different. There always are nuances to explain, always new specifics about how to reach solutions. That keeps things interesting.
Q Do you ever have to espouse or defend things you don't believe in?
Absolutely. My job is to explain the positions of my bosses and the caucus. I was not elected. It's very easy to subjugate my own thinking.
Q What was the toughest thing you ever had to defend?
The pay raise. (In July 2005, the Legislature voted raises up to 34 percent for its members, judges, and executive branch employees at 2 a.m. with no debate. It was repealed, except for judges, following public outcry.)
Q And how did you do that?
Not well. That was the last thing the Legislature did before breaking for summer recess. No members wanted to talk about it. We were really getting blasted, and I felt somebody needed to defend it. But it was like being at the bottom of Niagara Falls, trying to pick it up with a bucket.
At one point, a newspaper editorial carried the headline "Is Miskin an Idiot?" It was a terrible time.
Q What's the most misunderstood thing about the Legislature?
That, in reality, it's the peoples' commission. People look at the Legislature as some nameless, faceless body and so whenever there's an opinion formed it's always going to be lower than, say, about a governor. Always.
But people actually vote for who's going to represent them in Harrisburg. And that's the Legislature. That's what the Legislature is all about. It's the longest continuous elected body in the Americas. It's there for a reason. Its members are elected to look at issues from the perspective of their community - of the 64,000 people each House member represents, of the 250,000 people each senator represents. And it's always going to be there.
Q What's the most misunderstood issue the GOP Legislature has to deal with?
Funding. There's a misconception of how Republicans look at budgeting. We budget by prioritizing spending. Here's how much you have, so you have to prioritize. . . . If Gov. Wolf wants to spend more on schools, that's his prerogative, but do so within the confines of revenues you have.
Q That sounds semi-familiar. Does it mean we're headed into another budget battle, even in an election year?
To continue the level of spending, there needs to be revenues. That's legitimate. But you should be looking at other things before taxes. . . . Before you take more money out of peoples' pockets, you should be looking at cost-drivers such as pensions in the state, the schools, and municipalities.
Q Any advice for anyone wanting to do what you do?
It's all about common sense and relationships. It's about being able to talk to people. It's about credibility, and always telling the truth.